Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Anthropology: Ancient skull from Galilee cave offers clues to the first modern Europeans

Interior of the Manot Cave in Israel's Galilee, where a 55,000-year-old skull sheds new light on human migration patterns.

The discovery of a 55,000-year-old partial skull in Northern Israel provides new insights into the migration of modern humans out of Africa. The rare find is reported in the journal Nature this week by an international team of Israeli, North American and European researchers.

A key event in human evolution was the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia, replacing all other forms of hominin (humans and their predecessors), around 40,000-60,000 years ago. However, due to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations have largely remained a mystery.
Now, researchers describe a partial skull that dates to around 55,000, which was found at Manot Cave in Israel's Western Galilee. 
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Skull discovery suggests location where humans first had sex with Neanderthals

Views of the human skull, with missing jaw, found in western Galilee, northern Isreal and estimated at 55,000 years old. Photograph: Tel Aviv University and University of Vienna

An ancient skull found in a cave in northern Israel has cast light on the migration of modern humans out of Africa and the dawn of humanity’s colonisation of the world.
For most palaeontologists that might be enough for a single fossil, but the braincase has offered much more: a likely location where the first prehistoric trysts resulted in modern humans having sex with their heavy-browed Neanderthal cousins.
Discovered in a cave in western Galilee, the partial skull belonged to an individual, probably a woman, who lived and died in the region about 55,000 years ago, placing modern humans there and then for the first time ever.
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Scan finds new tattoos on 5300-year-old Iceman

A new study has used advanced imaging techniques to identify previously unknown tattoos on the ribcage of the 5300-year old man known as Ötzi, bringing his total number of tattoos to 61.
But first, some context
In September of 1991 hikers in the Ötzal Alps along the border of Austria and Italy happened upon the mummified corpse who became an archaeological celebrity. After Ötzi died at the hands of unknown attackers one late spring or early summer around 3500 BC, his body and belongings were left in a small gully where they were entombed beneath an alpine glacier. A combination of glacial meltwater and extreme cold resulted in natural mummification of his body.
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Maybe Early Humans Weren't The First To Get A Good Grip

An example of a human precision grip — grasping a first metacarpal from the thumb of a specimen of Australopithecus africanus that's thought to be 2 to 3 million years old.

The special tool-wielding power of human hands may go back further in evolutionary history than scientists have thought.
That's according to a new study of hand bones from an early relative of humans calledAustralopithecus africanus. Researchers used a powerful X-ray technique to scan the interior of the bones, and they detected a telltale structure that's associated with a forceful precision grip.
"It's clear evidence that these australopiths were using their hands and using grips that are very consistent with what modern humans did and what our recent relatives like Neanderthals did," says Matthew Skinner, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Kent, in the United Kingdom. He was part of the team that published the new work online Thursday in Science.
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Monday, January 19, 2015

Stone Age artefacts found in Norway's melting glaciers

Around 7,000 years ago the Earth was enjoying a warm climate. Now glaciers and patches of perennial ice in the high mountains of Southern Norway have started to melt again, revealing ancient layers. 

A small knife with a wooden handle, probably from the Iron Age, was one of the  treasures found by archaeologists at the glacier Lendbreen in Oppland County,  Norway during the 2014 summer season [Credit: Oppland County] 

“Actually we should be slowly approaching a new ice age. But in the past 20 years we have witnessed artefacts turning up in summer from increasingly deeper layers of the glaciers,” says Lars Pilø. 

He is an archaeologist working for Oppland County, and has for many years done fieldwork in glaciers and ice patches, finding things our ancestors discarded or lost.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Stone Age man wasn't necessarily more advanced than the Neanderthals

A multi-purpose bone tool dating from the Neanderthal era has been discovered by University of Montreal researchers, throwing into question our current understanding of the evolution of human behaviour. It was found at an archaeological site in France. "This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered. It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens," said Luc Doyon of the university's Department of Anthropology, who participated in the digs. Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia in the Middle Paleolithic between around 250,000 to 28,000 years ago. Homo sapiens is the scientific term for modern man.
The production of bone tools by Neanderthals is open to debate. For much of the twentieth century, prehistoric experts were reluctant to recognize the ability of this species to incorporate materials like bone into their technological know-how and likewise their ability to master the techniques needed to work bone. However, over the past two decades, many clues indicate the use of hard materials from animals by Neanderthals. "Our discovery is an additional indicator of bone work by Neanderthals and helps put into question the linear view of the evolution of human behaviour," Doyon said.
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Recreating the ancient Greek drinking game Kottabos

Years before beer pong was invented, the ancient Greeks played kottabos to pass the time at symposia (drinking parties) where privileged men reclined on cushion couches and played the game that is found illustrated on ancient artworks. Women of fine society didn’t attend symposia but hetaires (courtesans) played the sloppy game where winners received all sorts of prizes, such as sweets and even sexual favours. 

Banqueter playing the kottabos game; kalos inscription in the name of Leagros.  Side A of the neck of an Attic red-figure neck-amphora, ca. 510 BC. From Vulci  [Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/WikiCommons] 

Assistant Art History Professor Heather Sharpe of West Chester University in Pennsylvania tried to recreate the game with her students. It wasn’t as easy as it appears “because we do have these illustrations of it, but they only show one part of the game – where individuals are about to flick some dregs at a target.”

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Parasiteneier aus der Keltenzeit in Basel gefunden

Ei eines Spulwurms (Ascaris sp.) mit der typischen gewellten Membran. Foto: IPNA

In Proben aus der früheren keltischen Siedlung «Basel-Gasfabrik» sind Archäologen der Universität Basel bei Laboranalysen auf Eier von Darmparasiten gestossen – und schliessen damit auf eine mangelhafte Hygiene der damaligen Bevölkerung. Mittels spezieller Methoden der Geoarchäologie fanden sie drei verschiedene Parasitenarten, wie sie in der Fachzeitschrift «Journal of Archaeological Science» berichten.

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Monday, January 12, 2015


a Lecture by
Michael Duigan
7.00 pm, Friday, 16th January

Activity Space 1, Clore Learning Centre
Museum of London, London Wall EC2Y 5HN


Would you be beautiful in the ancient world?

In ancient Greece the rules of beauty were all important. Things were good for men who were buff and glossy. And for women, fuller-figured redheads were in favour - but they had to contend with an ominous undercurrent, historian Bettany Hughes explains.
A full-lipped, cheek-chiselled man in Ancient Greece knew two things - that his beauty was a blessing (a gift of the gods no less) and that his perfect exterior hid an inner perfection. For the Greeks a beautiful body was considered direct evidence of a beautiful mind. They even had a word for it - kaloskagathos - which meant being gorgeous to look at, and hence being a good person.
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